Weapons of war to artifacts of peace

Written by Bruno Baerg

The impact of war is felt long after specific hostilities exist and long after the global community has forgotten all about it.

This is particularly true in Mozambique some 18 years after the cessation of the apartheid Rhodesia / South African funded war of destabilization (1977-1992) in the country. Approx 1 million people were killed due to that conflict along with another approx 5 million people displaced. This had huge consequences which are still felt to this very day.

Weapons exist in huge numbers throughout the country. One of the goals of one of our partners, the Christian Council of Mozambique, has been to rid the country of these weapons and to build and rebuild traditions of peaceful resolution to conflict.

With authorization and support from the national government it has created an 'Arms to Ploughshares' organization that collects weapons from communities (voluntarily) by exchanging them for building materials or other useful products, destroys the weapons, and then engages the communities in training for non-violent conflict reduction. Given the decades of war many people do not have a culture of non-violent peacemaking - particularly in isolated rural communities.

The destroyed weapons are then given to artists who depict the pain of violence and war as well as the transformation that can happen when we no longer glamorize killing. Unfortunately war and violence have too long been supported and blessed even by the church - thus the depiction of the cross (above) made up of military hardware. Many innocent people have died because of this blessing from the church. If we don't speak for peace then we often by default support a culture that allows violent resolution of problems to be seen as the only viable response. Below is another portrayal of the impact of war on human life - turning people into weapons and machines of destruction and thus distorting the essence of humanity, albeit still recognizing that frailty with a leather shoe.

The dynamics of turning arms into ploughshares is complex. As the participants told us it has many frightening moments. In a recent foray to collect weapons at the heart of the old conflict's focal point the staffer was informed where to meet his contact. Upon arrival he called the contact person and was informed he was about 20 km away from where he was supposed to be. He was then given instructions to go to another point. After several hours of waiting he was met by a person who assumed he was involved in the drug trade and wanted to make an exchange. It took awhile for the staffer to convince him that this was not the case and that he only was interested in procuring weapons for destruction. Eventually he was directed to a place where he was told to wait. After awhile weapons were brought to him - 2-3 at a time. When the collection was complete there were approx 500 serviceable weapons in his vehicle - and out of circulation. It was twice what they had expected.

Now the task was to deliver these safely for destruction. That in itself was a complicated task and required ingenuity, dealing with vehicle breakdowns, presentation of formal documentation, avoiding being searched or having the weapons stolen, and many hours on the road. It was with great relief that he safely reached his destination. By the time of this writing the weapons will have been cut into pieces and will be delivered to various artists to be transformed into something new.

War has never resolved any long standing issues nor does it bring peace. War begets war! It is only when we work towards alternative methods of resolving conflict can we break out of this cycle of violence. Any type of violence - even that which we call 'redemptive violence' perpetuates the cycle and feeds on itself. It is encouraging to see the Mozambican church shift from that pattern and offer a gospel of hope that can indeed lead to long standing peace.